This gallery explores the history of the Hungarian yellow-star houses, a network of almost 2,000 apartment buildings where 220,000 Budapest Jews were forced to live for half a year, from June 21 1944. Both the houses and their residents were forced to display the yellow star.
Hardly any archival photographs of the Budapest yellow-star houses exist. Cameras, radios, and bicycles were confiscated from Jews in April 1944.
After World War II in Hungary, the Holocaust, the murder of half a million Hungarian citizens, and the history of the Budapest yellow-star houses remained taboo subjects for two generations, in public, and even within families.
On the seventieth anniversary of the Hungarian Holocaust, the Open Society Archives (OSA) wants to document why and how the yellow-star houses were created, who lived there, and what life and death were like in the Budapest of 1944.
"No Jews live here!"
OSA's exhibit presents archival photographs and documents from the first half of the 1940s, alongside excerpts from hundreds of personal histories and documents collected in 2014, from the people who lived in the yellow-star houses, their descendants, friends and neighbors.
This exhibit explores a neglected chapter of Budapest's history, one that was barely photographed or spoken about for 70 years.
"On March 19, we saw with our own eyes the German tanks and military vehicles proceeding up towards Heroes’ Square. Accompanied by German marching tunes, legions of soldiers marched in disciplined columns, their boots clacking. It was hair-raising." -- Anonymous, May 12, 2014.
"When I hear of 1944, or the word Holocaust, it’s always the pictures that have remained from those times that come to mind. It’s the same with the “yellow-star house.” I was a six-year-old boy and we lived in Lovag Street 18 on the first floor, at the back. It might sound strange but I was pleased that there was a star on the house because it meant we didn’t have to move. Three of us lived in the small apartment, me, my mother and grandmother. Father wasn’t at home, he had to join up somewhere. The only thing I can remember from the June-October period was that we had to wear the yellow star, even when in early September I went with my mother around the local schools, but they didn’t let us through the gate. “Why can’t we go in?” “Because of the star, my son.” “So let’s take it off.” “I’m afraid we can’t.” -- Gy. Solt, January 31, 2014.
Distinguished Hungarian Jewish men rounded up and detained in 1944 at the Kistarcsa internment camp for political prisoners, just outside Budapest.
The elderly gentleman in the front row with a slight stoop is Leó Goldberger, one of the most prominent textile manufacturers in Central Europe:
"On March 19, 1944, “the Germans arrived,” they occupied Hungary, and we had to wear the yellow star. [...] The Gestapo took Leó Goldberger away on the very first day, and arrested the factory’s management. For us, this was disastrous, because while they ran the factory, they supported my mother financially.
When the family had to move into a yellow-star house, my mother and aunt “hid” their valuables in a big chest in one of the Goldberger factory’s storerooms. This is how their valuables (silver goods, jewelry, fur coats and other things in the chest, but I don’t know what they were) were destroyed in the bombing and subsequent fire. (Our father, György Kis, worked in the Goldberger factory in Kelenföld as a textile engineer, as did my older brother András Kollin, as well as my aunt’s brother, and this is how the chest ended up at the mill, which burned down.) One more sad thing: Leó Goldberger was taken to Mauthausen where, after 14 months’ imprisonment, he died on May 5, 1945."
K. Öregkis, January 30, 2014.
"I never experienced any antisemitic incidents before 1944, when someone punched me on the street. We were very afraid in 1944 after the Arrow Cross took over, and took the Jews to the Tattersaal racing track. When the Arrow Cross went from house to house, I remember being very frightened.
And then we escaped this in the house, because my grandfather had a false paper that said he had been condemned to death during Béla Kun’s rule. He showed this to the Arrow Cross and they decided that we could stay at home. The others from the house returned two days later. They didn’t take us away from the house, and again this was due to my grandfather’s genius, because he acquired a fake Swiss protection passport, of course it was perfectly clear that the stamp on the passport was fake. So he made a photocopy of it, and I remember that the whole family’s name was written on it: him, my grandmother, my mother and me, and we went to the corner of Rákóczi Road and the Boulevard where there was a public notary. And he had the photocopy certified, and from that point on we presented our certified copy of a fake document. My grandfather was a very, very refined person. The house on Szövetség Street was declared a Jewish house. I think the majority in the house was Jewish anyway. Although the area around it was not a Jewish area, the house was designated a Jewish house. That’s where we were during the war. And I also remember that on the ground floor there lived someone called Keresényi or something like that, who bought me ice cream from the cake shop opposite, because Jews couldn’t go into cake shops. After the Arrow Cross took over, we had to leave the house: there was some office on Pozsonyi Road and that’s where they designated a protected house for us at Tátra Street 29/b. The apartment wasn’t that crammed full. I don’t remember who we lived with. We’d go down into the basement where there might have been a carpenters’ shop and that’s where we were during the bombings. We cooked there together. I remember eating a bean stew where, instead of using bicarbonate of soda to soften the beans, someone had added anti-moth powder by accident. But we ate it anyway. And that’s where we were liberated, but the Arrow Cross were already going from house to house and taking the Jews to the Danube banks. If the Russians hadn’t arrived two days later, we would have died there too. Countless people died in the Holocaust. Forty from my family. In the family tree I made, there are over 200 hundred names, and I made the tree so my children would know where they come from. I worked on it for years, and when I was in Israel I tried to supplement the information. It’s now finished.
After the war, we went back to Szövetség Street. Some things remained in our apartment, some things had gone. Most of the furniture survived. But my Märklin railway had disappeared. I remember that we didn’t have anything to eat in 1945, and there was a family in the house called Wintermantel, who were jewelers and Christians. They had two children, and I made a deal with them: I’d give them my Märklin railway in exchange for food. But when I went to look for it, I saw it had been taken, it was gone. So the deal was off."
From the Centropa archive.
Gy. Kárpáti, interviewed in 2003 for the Centropa Archive, on the yellow-star house where he lived at Tátra Street 29/b, in Budapest's 13th district.
"It wasn’t enough for [the concierge] Auntie Margit to look after us, she also had to conceal one of the residents, who was an actual baron, and who produced protection letters on the quiet. They lived on the third floor. He produced them there, there were people hanging off the door-handle, you couldn’t even close the door before the next person arrived. He produced these protection passports and letters not only for the residents, but for others outside the house too. The blinds were pulled down, and all the decent left-wing people met there, that’s where they held meetings. The baron belonged to Wallenberg’s group, and after the war, he had to leave Hungary immediately, without his family, otherwise they would have taken him away. So a few months after we came home in 1945, he left without his family."
Mrs. I. Lóránt, interviewed for the Centropa Archive in 2004.
"My grandparents had rejected our offer to obtain a protection letter for them, saying they were Hungarian citizens, and what were we thinking, why would we ask for protection from a foreign state. We learned later that they had been taken first to the Óbuda brick factory, and from there herded on foot towards Germany. An eye-witness told me that when my diabetic grandmother could not walk any further and sat down, an Arrow Cross man shot both my grandparents in the head."
G. Falus (Fried), April 22, 2014.
"There was an enormous number of people living in the yellow-star house. Lots of children and older people. The residents only saw just how many people were living there when there was an air raid, and everyone had to go down into the basement.
[...] The front was moving closer and closer, and everyone in the house knew of the Normandy landings. Of course, they hadn’t had radios for a long time, because every Jewish family had had to hand these in much earlier. And then there were the terrible bombings that had already reached Pest. But they hoped that things would somehow turn out okay."
P. Győri and siblings, February 18, 2014.
"My mother went into hiding even while pregnant, because my father was not Jewish and according to the laws of the time, could not marry her." -- Anonymous, February 2, 2014.
"Days in the yellow-star house were boring and pointless. A bunch of people locked up together. Only young boys, ladies and old people remained. All the men had been taken into forced labor service. They squeezed in as many families as they possibly could. What was funny was that this was a house with a double courtyard, and in the front courtyard, which was in better shape, there was a brothel on the first floor."
J. Deme, interviewed in 2004 for the Centropa archive.
"I will never forget October 15, 1944. After Horthy’s radio proclamation, everyone dashed out onto the corridors and rejoiced. One of my maternal uncles who had escaped from forced labor service said: “Crazy Jews, stop celebrating! Now comes the hardest part.” Then he left, saying he was going to find his wife and three young children." -- Mrs. Gy. Urhman, February 18, 2014.
"We went along Rákóczi Road towards Klauzál Square, and the crowds of people on the street looked on maliciously, many of them shouted in approval."
Dr. Gy. Erdős, February 5, 2014.
"Horthy’s proclamation [that Hungary was leaving the war] caused much excitement, but the next day the Arrow Cross broke into the house, and ordered every man aged between 16 and 60 down into the courtyard. They took away Grandfather and Uncle Károly and all the other men in the house. They never returned.
[...] Some days later more Arrow Cross men came, young men in their teens, and herded all the women together. They took our mother too. After a terrible, nerve-wracking three days, she came home. They had been taken to the Óbuda brick factory. There were thousands of them there, desperate girls and women. Our mother was rescued by a distant relative who was working as a Zionist, who didn’t wear the yellow star, and who went about in public wherever he could. He went to the brick factory to get his wife, and because he knew our mother well, he managed to bring her and a few other women out too. The yellow-star house was almost completely empty. We didn’t dare to stay there either."
M. Kiss, February 19, 2014.
Following the Arrow Cross takeover of power on October 15, 1944, Budapest Jews were rounded up and subjected to public humiliation campaigns. This forced march through the city lasted for two days.
"On the morning of October 15, my mother and I went to an office on Erzsébet Boulevard, where I was accepted for the third class at the Jewish Grammar School. After we got home, around midday, the concierge switched the radio on, which was broadcasting Miklós Horthy’s ceasefire proclamation. We listened to the program in the courtyard. We breathed out in relief and hope. A friend of mine, Gyuri Schwartz, removed the yellow star from the entrance to our building. Some hours later, an officer came over from the neighboring Hadik barracks and who, with a gun, ordered that the emblem of discrimination be replaced immediately on the house. The Arrow Cross leader and his family were not at home at the time, but earlier, it had been “rush hour” at their place. The striking presence of so many “guests” may have been connected to the Nazi-assisted putsch. We saw everything, because the visitors passed under our window."
G. Kovács, March 19, 2014.
" Ádám Fellegi and his parents also lived on the third floor, on the left-hand side from us. The father had been deported earlier and never returned to his family. Auntie Margit remained along with Ádám, who was around three years old. One dawn, their door was broken down and they were taken away in their nightgowns, with lots of other people to the Danube. They had to take their shoes off. A guard with a machine-gun stood next to them, sucking on a sweet. Ádám said to him:
“Mister, give me a sweet, I’m hungry!”
“Take your son and get lost,” hissed the man to Auntie Margit, who grabbed Ádám and started running away. A few moments they heard shooting behind them and when they looked back, the riverbank was already empty."
Mrs. L. Somorjai, March 27, 2014.
"Once a really tough thing happened. There was a tram-stop in front of the Víg Theatre. I was going there to board the tram and get downtown. [...] Then a Levente patrol [interwar paramilitary scouting organization] came, and asked me to identify myself. I did not want to, as I did not have Levente papers, only an address registration slip on which I had written “r.k.” [Roman Catholic].
So I was chattering away, and waiting for the tram to arrive. [...] I thought that when it arrived, I would board at the last door of the last car, and if these guys wanted to get on after me, I would kick them off. But the tram didn’t come…
Then a man in civilian clothes with an SS armband came close and asked what the matter was… “Heil Hitler”, “Heil Hitler”… The Levente patrol says that I don’t want to identify myself. Then the guy says, leave it, I will take care of him. They left, the man also got on the tram, which had finally arrived. He disclosed he was a Jew too, saying that he is also 'on télak'."
T. Halász, March 9, 2014
"Did you know that in 1944, this building was a yellow-star house? Let's remember here together, on June 21, 1944."
On the seventieth anniversary of the forced mass relocation of 220,000 Budapest Jews into almost 2,000 yellow-star houses, OSA is organizing hundreds of commemorative events across our city.
Our forthcoming exhibit will explore how the history of the 1944 Budapest yellow-star houses is received in 2014.